James Dowdall, Torch Bearer Image courtesy of Robert Hayes
James Dowdall, Torch Bearer
Image courtesy of Robert Hayes

It’s curious how extended families, so close in childhood days, can grow slowly apart as children age and move on. I guess it’s related to our modern existence of social mobility, dispersal and transience. My own family is a case in point. When I was growing up, my mother and her siblings were very chummy and we spent much of our time squatting in each other’s houses even when we lived in different parts of the country. An effort was made, the bond was important. But, imperceptibly, the bond gradually eroded, finally snapping when nobody was looking. These days, only funerals bring the clan together (weddings and christenings are as rare as ginger nuns in my largely heathen tribe).

Last week I attended the funeral of my Uncle James. He was 87. The Grim Reaper called at night and Jim died quietly in his sleep. The funeral service was nose to nipple (clearly, dying young isn’t the only way to get a healthy crowd in for a send-off). Late-comers were forced to stand at the back.

There were many things I knew about my uncle. I knew that after his wife (and my favourite aunt), Ruth died and, following a minor stroke, Jim found physical and emotional recovery through fitness and jogging. I also knew that he first completed the London Marathon when he was 73. I didn’t know that Jim went on to complete 8 marathons in all and raise £16,000 for a local cancer charity in the process. I didn’t know that he was given a Local Hero Award, an MBE and selected to carry the 2012 Olympic Torch when it went on national tour last year. Uncle Jim enjoyed a star-spangled dotage. This is a grand lesson to us all.

I also didn’t know how to knot my black tie. After a five year absence from the wicked world of the waged, I’d simply forgotten. This doesn’t auger well for my own dotage.